Russian RT victim of not-so-free freedom of expression in Western countries
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With drastic changes in the Ukraine crisis, Russia Today (RT), the Russian media, is facing increasing pressure from the West. UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said she fears RT is “seeking to spread harmful disinformation”, according to a recent Reuters report.
RT, an autonomous not-for-profit organization publicly funded from the budget of the Russian Federation, has been broadcasting in the UK for eight years. It is a free public television network. Anyone in the UK who pays the TV license fee can have access to RT. When it comes to stories about countries like Ukraine and Syria, if viewers want to get information that the BBC does not give them and if they follow the information with a logic that mainstream British media does not recognize and can’t understand, they can just turn to RT. For example, a viewer could learn how NATO’s eastward enlargement works and how the UK became deeply involved in the 2019 Hong Kong riots.
A group of left-leaning British journalists also see RT as the only media platform where they can make their voices heard. Some political figures who have been forced into retirement or who have been suppressed by right-wing forces, such as Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, and George Galloway, former Labor Party member and leader of the Workers’ Party of Great Britain , are not afraid of the threat of their political adversaries and public opinion. They continue to animate chronicles on RT to comment on the news.
Since RT got its license in 2014, it has enjoyed a brief moment of glory, with prominent left-wing Labor MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, as well as other well-known figures in society, regularly appearing as guests. This Russian channel invited guests who were not invited by the BBC and covered topics that The Times did not cover. For the British press, which advocates “freedom of expression“, many anti-Russians have seen RT develop during this brief period.
Since the Ukrainian issue emerged and the Syrian civil war broke out, and especially after the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, Russian-British relations have deteriorated sharply and anti-Russian politicians have publicly launched a siege against RT on mainstream media platforms like the BBC. They have blacklisted political and academic figures who regularly give interviews to RT, preventing opposition figures from using it as a propaganda platform.
The main and silent obstacle to RT in the UK is the Office of Communications (Ofcom), which is a government approved competition and regulatory authority for the media industry in the UK. RT’s reporting on Ukraine and Syria has been investigated time and time again by Ofcom, which has slapped RT with a heavy fine for allegedly biased and false reporting. RT appealed the verdict and the case in question went to the UK High Court, where it still lost. The Russian government responded that if the UK expelled RT, the Russian side would immediately take the same action against UK media operating in Russia.
RT’s bank accounts are frozen, creating huge obstacles to the normal operations of the company. The leaders of the British Labor Party and the Scottish National Party have taken the initiative to urge the British government to revoke the license of the RT news channel. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered an investigation into the company. Anna Belkina, deputy editor of RT, said UK politicians are “interfering directly with institutions presented as being supposedly completely free from political pressure and influence”.
Like RT, some Chinese media are experiencing almost the same fate in the UK. How long can RT survive in the UK, which claims to support free speech? Let’s wait and see.
The author is a media professional. [email protected]